The cost of love: Victims of romance scams lost an average of $21,000. Photo: Penny Stephens
A passionate online romance with an aid worker in Africa might sound appealing but it is one of many scams that cost Australians more than $93 million last year, with dating scams among the most lucrative.
More than 2440 jilted lovers reported a tryst - with a worker supposedly from the United Nations, an engineer working in the Persian Gulf, or a serving US soldier - that quickly escalated to a financial disaster, a report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission shows.
They are not only breaking people's wallets, they are also breaking their hearts.
More than 84,000 Australians who contacted the ACCC lost $93 million to scammers who wanted an advanced fee for a service, offered online shopping promotions, lottery tickets or were involved in computer hacking, the report showed. The average age of victims was between 33 and 45.
Warning: ACCC chairwoman Delia Rickard. Photo: Andrew De La Rue
Of the online dating victims, 30 per cent reported a loss of more than $100,000 after they were duped into sending money to help ''build a new orphanage'', start a business together, travel together or for illness.
Victims of romance scams lost an average of $21,000, the report said.
''They are not only breaking people's wallets, they are also breaking their hearts,'' deputy ACCC chairwoman Delia Rickard said.
Despite the relatively small number of victims, dating website scams became the second highest category for losses, totalling more than $23 million. Investment scams recorded a loss of more than $30 million, asking victims for ''up-front payment''.
Australians' losses to online dating scams are up by $8 million on 2010.
The fake relationships would often start on a legitimate dating website, and were generally conducted by scammers in Nigeria or eastern Europe, Ms Rickard said.
For months, the new love interest would ''groom'' their victim, sending them flowers, presents or long love letters.
Romance victims who earnestly believed they were in a serious relationship would become defiant when police suggested their love affair had been a sham, Ms Rickard said.
For more information on scams, go to scamwatch.gov.au/outsmartthescammers